This Non-Profit Helps Female Vets ‘Dress for Success’

This non-profit helps women, including female veterans, get the right outfits they need to transition back into the civilian workforce.

By Joy DiazNovember 11, 2015 9:30 am| ,

Part of the mission at Dress for Success is to help women achieve financial independence. That includes women veterans. A higher percentage of female vets are unemployed than male vets.

“I have an interview this afternoon,” Julia Hill says.

Hill wrings her hands because she’s nervous. Advancing her military career meant she took tests and competed for higher positions, in uniform. But now, she’s a civilian.

“It’s the first time in a long time,” Hill says.

She’s had to craft a resume, plan for an interview with a total stranger and figure out what to wear. Lisa Kaufman, with Dress for Success, is her coach today.

“OK, so you want to practice your interview? So, Julia, why do you want this job today?” Kaufman says.

“I don’t want that job – is that horrible?” Hill says.

“No,” Kaufman says. “Look at this from this perspective: If it isn’t the job, you haven’t done this in a long time, we are going to use it as an opportunity to practice.”

While Kaufman helps Hill practice, she’s also helping her pick an outfit for the interview.

“OK, let’s pull this jacket off for a second,” Kaufman says.

After some adjustments, the jacket fits perfectly. It’s time to accessorize – jewelry, shoes, purse, the works. Hill’s hands shake as she tries on some silver earrings. The mother of five is clearly out of her element.

“It’s overwhelming!” Hill says, “To have someone helping you so much. It’s like I treat my children but it’s been a while since someone has done it for me.”

She tears up as she looks in the mirror.

There are at least a dozen former military women getting coached and dressed here. The room looks like a boutique with its glass chandeliers. Mia Johns with Dress for Success says the place used to be a warehouse, with five locations like it in Texas. Johns says they rely on donations.

“We take jewelry, all kinds of unopened make-up, toiletries you don’t think you’ll need and of course we give every client a hand-bag so we are always in need of professional looking hand-bags,” Johns says.

Another big need: new high quality bras.

“You know – a lot of women just love it when we can lift and then they have this beautiful waist and then their clothes look beautiful,” Johns says.

Terri Bollman is a former field medic. She’s never been concerned with her image. Over the last 20 years, her outfits have varied from fatigues to hospital scrubs. But when she found herself unemployed, her caseworker at the Texas Workforce Commission referred her to Dress for Success.

“Because that was my question,” Bollman says. “I was like,  I wore my scrubs to my last interview. He was like, No!”

Like Hill, Bollman hasn’t had much experience interviewing in the civilian world. She says the last time she got dressed up was before the first of her six children was born. Before she left the warehouse, Bollman had what she calls a power suit, two of them actually, and a new respect for civilian clothes.

“Ooooh! Dorothy’s not in Kansas no more,” Bollman says. “Wow – it’s wow!”

Now, Bollman and Hill have to wow their prospective employers as they sell their hard won military skills to the civilian world.

Image credit Joy Diaz/Texas Standard

Military veteran Julia Hill tries on earrings as part of her prep for a job interview.